By Whitworth Athletics
SPOKANE, Wash. – Fourth-ranked Whitworth University has a chance to claim its 11th straight Northwest Conference men's basketball tournament championship after holding off visiting Linfield College 76-64 in the NWC semifinals on Thursday night.
The Pirates improved to 23-3 and will travel to 2nd-ranked Whitman (26-0) on Saturday night for the championship game. The Blues earned the right to host the game by claiming the conference's regular season title and then defeating George Fox 105-75 in Thursday's other semfinal.
Kyle Roach scored 21 points for Whitworth, helping the Pirates withstand more than one strong second-half challenge from the Wildcats (15-11). The Bucs claimed their 19th straight win in the series.
Linfield led 2-0 and 4-2 before the Pirates took the lead with six straight points. The Wildcats took their final lead at 19-18 on a Kyle Maloof three-pointer. CJ Johnson answered right back with a three for the Pirates. With the game tied 23-23, Whitworth used an 8-0 run to gain some breathing room. The Bucs went up by ten three times late in the half, the final time after Derek Isaak's basket made the score 39-29. Whitworth led 39-30 at the break.
The Pirates shot 60% (15-25) from the field in the first half and made all six of their free throws. Meanwhile Linfield shot 41% (12-29) from the floor and 5-7 at the line.
After Whitworth went up 41-31 early in the second half, the Wildcats scored eight straight points to cut the margin to 41-39. Maloof had two of those baskets as part of a huge second half effort. But the Pirates held Linfield at bay and eventually stretched the margin back to 52-43 on an Isaak three-pointer. Again Maloof answered right back for the 'Cats, scoring three straight baskets to personally cut the margin to 54-51 with 8:22 to play. But that's as close as Linfield would get. Whitworth steadily pulled away down the stretch and Roach's final bucket increased the lead to 72-61 with 1:29 to go. The Bucs were solid at the line in the final three minutes, going 9-10 from the charity stripe.
Christian Jurlina added 12 points for Whitworth, while Drew Sears scored 11 points. Kenny Love led the Bucs with eight rebounds as Whitworth finished with a 34-30 edge on the boards. While the Pirates' shooting percentage dropped off in the second half, Whitworth still finished the game at 53.5% (23-43) from the field.
Maloof scored 18 of his game-high 23 points in the second half. Matt Woods finished with 12 points and seven rebounds for the 'Cats, who shot 37% (22-60) from the floor, including only 14% (2-14) from three-point range.
Whitworth will be appearing in its 15th NWC tournament championship game on Saturday. There have been 21 tournaments in the conference's history and the Pirates have won 12 so far.
Whitman swept Whitworth in the regular season, claiming a 79-65 win in Walla Walla followed by a 91-75 victory in Spokane.